An Interview with Spanish harpman Victor Uris, one of the most pure and original bluesman in Europe

"Blues is a musical style, like for example Flamenco that was born out of the deepest roots of its people, springing from the deep need to express human feelings."

Victor Uris: The man who keep on harpin'

He was born in Palma de Mallorca in 1958. With self taught formation he began in the music's world at the end of 1982 soon after the birth of the band Harmonica Blues Band that was fruit of the union of three musicians from Mallorca: Pep Banyo, Toni Reynes and Victor Uris. With this formation began to play for the island with a classic repertoire of blues and own compositions. During the following two years they went uniting other element until in 1985 where they were consolidated.

Starting from here they act in the main holidays and musical events of the capital and of the rest of the island. Pure acoustic style and piedmont, having gone by so diverse formations as, the Harmonica Coixa Blues Band and multiple collaborations with diverse musicians of this country. In 1987 they recorded their first single in study and other live engraving in the Auditorium of Palm during the VI Jazz Festival of Palma. Soon they recorded a collective record, Jazz festivals with other groups mallorquines. In 1988 their first L.P recorded as own production. It is then when they took the relief of the voice Errol Woiski. Beginning decade 90´s some changes they arised in the composition of the group entering to be part of the same one the guitar player Vicenç Caldentey and the Catalan vocalist Big Mama.

With this formation in 1991 they carried out the recording of their second L.P. "Walking Blues". They recorded an acoustic CD with the incorporation of Amadeu Houses (dobro and guitars), reaching a remarkable success and recognition. At the  moment heworks in a project with the Victor Uris Band with a new repertoire of versions of Blues and Jazz including own topics. On the other hand Victor Uris  has collaborated in study as live with other musicians, for example: Johnny Copeland, Kevin Ayers, Phil May Band (Pretty Things), Joan Bibiloni, Max Sunyer, Salvador Font.

In the theater, he has composed music for "Les nits blanque" of T.M. Dostoevsky and also of "Surabaya" interpreted by Aina Compte. In television, he has participated in different programs as well as different musical festivals and workshops and seminars of the harmonica.


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in Blues?

When I was in my twenties, one day I saw in a catalog of records, a picture of a man with a guitar and another one with a harp. Without knowing who they were and what kind of music they were playing, I felt attracted to that picture and bought that record. It happened to be one of the many records of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, “Hootin’ and hollerin’ ”. When I listened to that music I got knocked out! I really experienced a shock as I listened to that music for the first time!   

I already had a harp but from then, I got captured by the blues and more particularly by those two fellows. I started to buy more blues music, listen to it. I learnt by listening to these records.


From whom have you learned the most secrets about the blues music?

My masters were the great figures of the Blues reaching out to me through their records. I listened and listened to them trying to reproduce the sounds and getting captivated by the spirit of the blues. My fathers of blues are Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. I fell in love with them. They were my method, they were my book. I had no other teacher. I started to discover the secrets of blues by listening to them. They inspired me but in fact, I’m a self-taught man. I even used to dream about them. In the dream, I was always trying to follow them on the highroads but I was never able to catch up with them!


How do you describe Victor Uris’ sound and progress, what characterize Victor’s music and philosophy?

My sound is a particular sound owing to my personal circumstances. I usually don’t use any amplifier because it limits my mobility. So, I play directly with the mixer. This, technically, makes my sound particular. Also, owing to the fact that at the beginning, the musicians playing in my band were not all real blues musicians,  I had to adapt my phrasing. This aspect also contributed to the particularity of my sound.

It was only when I met Big Mama Montse and the other musicians playing with her, in Barcelona,  that I freed myself and started to play real Blues. I’m not aware of having any philosophy in particular. I don’t have a leading thought over my music. I’m a simple man. I just try to play, enjoy and transmit the feeling.

Actually, now after such a long time, to play with the band I’ve been playing for so many years, The Victor Uris Blues Quartet is really what makes me feel happy to play on stage and share great moments with both the musicians and the people.


What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues means to you?

When I was sixteen years old, I had a motorbike accident and as a result I was tetraplegia and had to stay on a wheelchair.

It was no more than a year after I had started to play the harp, I was about 24, when my grandmother died. She had been the only one left alive from my family. I then found myself alone and quite lost in the world (apart from the support my friends were giving me). I think it was at that point that music and most particularly the blues helped to get me out of the pit. Music was like a balloon that I grab to take me up, to rise. The blues allowed me to express all my emotions: anger, sadness, and happiness, everything... It opened a new way in my life.


What is “the feel” you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past?

I don’t think there is so much difference from yesterday and today’s blues. It all depends on who interprets it. Blues is good now and always because it bases itself on the expression of the feeling.


Which is the most interesting period of your life and why?

Every day, when I wake up and see that I’m alive and can go on.


What experiences in life make a good blues man?

For me, it is the capacity to share through music the depth of one’s own experiences of life.


How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

It’s both emotional and amazing. It’s one of the most important things for a musician. I love to play, to work in clubs and small places where I can have a direct contact with people and feel how they breath, how they listen to me or ignore me, how they laughs and finally, how we feel together.


Why do you think that the Blues continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

Because the Blues, as I said it before, is a popular music, simple, attractive, a music that makes you move your feet and captures you.

It reaches the people’s heart by its simplicity. Maybe, it’s a good counterpoint and a medicine for Europeans surrounded by so much artificiality.


Are they any memories from the Harmonica Coixa Blues band and Big Mama which you’d like to share with us?

Harmonica Coixa Blues Band was my first band. It was everything for me. It was the first blues band of Mallorca where I lived and one of the first in Spain. We made a tour of Spain and played at la Sala Zeleste in Barcelona.

That’s where I had the chance to meet Big Mama. From then started our relationship as musicians and our friendship that is still lasting. With her we made our second record “Walking Blues”. She was the singer of our band. Later, after Harmonica Coixa Blues Band, we continued  together and made a new record “El Blues de l’Ombra Blava” in the year 1996. It was a very special record. We worked very intensively. The recording was made in 15 days in Palma de Mallorca, in my own neighborhood. It’s a record of blues songs written by Big Mama, most of them in Catalan. It was intense and fun at the same time. There was a lot of enthusiasm on our parts.

It is from that record that Putumayo, a record company from New -york, chose the song “No way out” to be part of an album called “Blues around the world”. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to be part of a project gathering artists from the whole world each with its own linguistic expression of Blues. The musical level of the artists was so good and at the same time you could listen blues in Taiwanese, blues in Catalan, blues in English of course and so on. We were very happy to be part of that album.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I can mention two strong moments. One was in 1983, in Palma de Mallorca in Spain at the Jazz Festival with Johnny Copeland. He impressed me so much because I was a very young musician. He was a real bluesman and I was called to play a song with him. I was very shy. The experience was emotionally very strong.

I cannot remember the worst moments because when something bad happen, automatically something good comes and makes me forget the bad.


Which memory from Johnny Copeland, Kevin Ayers, Phil May Band makes you smile?

The day I played with Johnny Copeland, alter we played the song “I de go now”  he asked me to play more, but I didn’t have harps  in different keys to play . So I left the stage happy and i enjoyed the rest of the concert.

Kevin Ayers was a British musician that used to live in Deía in Mallorca, as many musicians and artists did at that time. Deía was a village with a lot of musical life. I met him there and we played together on several occasions, With Kevin Ayers and Joan Bibiloni, a very good mallorquin musician, we played many songs with a  blues flavor.

In 1984, when he came to play in Mallorca, I didn’t know anything about him and his band; I didn’t know who he was as a musician. I happened to be there around them at that time because one of my friends was in charge of the arrangements. They were to perform several days on the row. When he heard I was playing- during the rehearsal- he told me to join them. We played and then he told me to come every day for the performance. Still, I didn’t know that they were highly renowned musicians. One day, I was sick and didn’t come to play. And that same day the television came to film them. Then I knew who they were...the drummer was from The Pretenders, the guitar player had placed sessions with the Rolling Stones and Phil had been the leader of Pretty Things, a famous band of the sixties!

Fortunately, I still have home quality tape recordings of the music we played on those three occasions with Copeland, Kevin Ayers and Phil May.

From the musical feeling point of view, what are the differences and similarities between the Blues, Jazz, Rock and Score music?

All these music are all brothers. “The Blues had a baby and its name is rock & roll” sang Brownie McGee. And Jazz is for me the younger brother of Blues, even though it is a more elaborate music style.


What is the best advice a blues man ever gave you?

Yes, “Keep on harpin’ and practice a lot!” that was the best advice given by Johnny Copeland’s pianist.


Do you know why the sound of the harmonica is connected to the blues & what are the secrets of the blues harp?

Probably because the blues harp sounds very close to the human voice.

It can sound like a moan. The secret of blues harp consists in discovering its hidden notes.


Some musical styles can be fads but the Blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?

Blues is a musical style, like for example Flamenco that was born out of the deepest roots of its people, springing from the deep need to express human feelings. The Blues was the expression of an oppressed people – it’s was pure feeling and that truth reaches out the heart. It goes much beyond of being a musical style. It’s truly live music. As music, there will always be one musician passing it over, and another one receiving the truth of it, and that’s why it will never fade.


What are your main tools right now in harp case?

I started playing using the Marine Band from Honner until they stopped providing it in Mallorca. Instead, they started selling the hand-made Marine Band, a technically very difficult harp for me that was giving me a lot of difficulties to get out the right sound, mostly because of my situation of tetraplegic. So then, I shifted to the Lee Oscar harp during many years, until I discovered the Marine Band Deluxe a few years ago. From then, I got back to wooden harps that were much easier and softer to play with and with a much better quality of sound.


Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Spain.

Between the eighties and the nineties, it was a powerful moment for the Blues in Spain with the greatest blues musicians invited to play in the main Jazz Festivals. Those years were like seeds thrown in the fields of Spanish Blues that are now blooming with very good blues musicians and many new blues bands.


Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?

Where I live, on the island of Mallorca in Spain, when we created the Harmonica Coixa Blues Band, we were the first and only blues band of the island. Since then and over the years, things have changed a lot for the better. For example, there is a local club (one of the most important in Spain), exclusively dedicated to blues music, presenting daily gigs of local blues musicians and blues bands since 15 years. This club, named The Bluesville, has made it possible to invite the best blues musicians from Spain and America.


Victor Uris @ Myspace



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